What happened to “Whale Wars”? Why is it being canceled?


Despite how vast the ocean of reality TV is, it’s hard to find a show that captures the struggles of humans fighting for the more than noble cause of saving whales. Back in 2008, that was made possible by Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” but regardless of the good intentions behind the show, it couldn’t escape the criticism and scandal that followed its premiere.

International legal troubles, staff issues and a boat sinking are just some of the most pertinent trials the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society faced on the show, but were they enough to cancel the series?

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Stay here to know all the hardships that resulted in the cancellation of “Whale Wars”, including the lawsuits, the accidents and much more!


Why was the series cancelled?

While the cancellation of “Whale Wars” came after the show’s seventh season aired in 2015, the show’s troubles began several years earlier. Coincidentally, the show had maintained a stable format of several episodes per season, but in the sixth season, the show was significantly downsized to just one two-hour special episode, which aired in late 2013.

In an interview with The wire, then-President of Animal Planet Marjorie Kaplan admitted that the changes to the format of “Whale Wars” were caused by budget constraints, added to the legal troubles Paul Watson faced at the time, made the filming and production processes complex. That said, she also emphasized the importance of “Whale Wars” to the network’s brand and identity.

The next season of “Whale Wars” aired in 2015 and consisted of three two-hour episodes in documentary format. However, Paul Watson was unable to appear this season as the legal challenges he was facing at the time forced him to leave Sea Shepherd Conservation Society headquarters. He was replaced by Peter Hammarstedt as the new captain of the anti-whaling organization’s fleet, but given the many legal and budgetary problems that brought the continued existence of the series, the seventh was also the last “Whale Wars” – season that aired.

Difficulties in filming

There were several reasons that led to the end of “Whale Wars”, but the main one was the financial issues that limited the show’s filming and production processes. Despite its high viewership from its premiere and through its first seasons, “Whale Wars”‘s budget wasn’t as generous as it was assumed, and it became an increasing concern season after season, as Animal Planet’s then-President Marjorie Kaplan recounted. The wire in 2013.

In order to cut costs and avoid the consequences of Paul Watson’s legal troubles, Animal Planet left filming to the Sea Shepherd ship crew, who hired freelance personnel to make the sixth season possible on a budget. Approximately 2,500 hours of footage resulted from three months of filming and another five months passed before the organization reviewed the footage before delivering it to Lizard Trading Company in August. It took the production company more than 5,000 hours of work to wrap it all up in a special that aired in December 2013.

The show faced similar challenges in its seventh season, when of all the footage filmed aboard the Sea Shepherd ship, only three episodes were produced, according to an interview executive producer Liz Bronstein gave. Reality blurry in 2015.

All in all, making “Whale Wars” a reality was an uphill battle for the staff of Sea Shepherd, Animal Planet and the production company, so the show’s cancellation was not surprising.

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Paul Watson command

Paul Watson has been at the center of controversy since the formation of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the 1970s, but the situation reached an all-time low when an international injunction was issued against him in 2013.

Throughout the late 2000s to the early 2010s, several clashes occurred between the Sea Shepherd vessel and Japanese whaling vessels and establishments in the Antarctic. It was during Sea Shepherd’s Operation Zero Tolerance in late 2012 that the situation reached its dire point, resulting in an injunction won by the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research in the US Court of Appeals that described Paul’s organization as ‘illegal’ and forbade him to close Sea Shepherd along its associated areas within 450 yards of Japanese whalers.

With no choice but to abide by the ruling, Paul stepped down from the organization he had started. Meanwhile, Animal Planet had no plans to cancel “Whale Wars” and find a way to revamp the show by leaving the filming to Sea Shepherd staff. The network’s legal director, Julie Wolf, also confirmed that they never contributed financially to the anti-whaling organization’s cause and had no say in their activities: “They were not allowed to direct, control, recreate or reshoot anything. It was very, very journalistic, very, very true documentary terms,” ​​she said The wire.

While Animal Planet was legally well protected against any consequence resulting from the injunction, these growing problems certainly made it more difficult to produce “Whale Wars”.

Boat Lawsuit

One of the most media-focused events in the history of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was the sinking of the Ady Gil, an environmentally friendly superboat that joined the organization in 2009.

In June of that year, when the Ady Gil sailed into the Antarctic with the Steve Irwin ship during Operation Waltzing Matilda, intending to follow Japanese whalers.

According to reports, in early January 2010, the Ady Gil was reported to have sunk after a collision with the Shonan Maru 2, a sister ship of the Shonan Maru used to protect the fleet. For its part, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research accused the Ady Gil of interfering in its operations by attempting to drape ropes around the Shonan Maru 2’s propellers. The case ended with the revocation of Pete Bethune, Ady Gil’s operator, and his five-year ban from Japan.

Nevertheless, the case resurfaced in 2013 when Ady Gil, the owner of the wrecked boat, filed a $5 million lawsuit against Paul for allegedly sinking the ship for publicity purposes. In later September 2015an arbitrator determined that the Ady Gil ship was not in danger of sinking after the 2010 collision and was “unjustly” sunk under the order of the anti-whaling organization, effectively awarding Gil $500,000 in damages and another point was added to Paul Watson’s long list of legal problems during the “Whale Wars” run.

Criticism and backlash

Every TV show gets harsh criticism at some point, but the backlash against “Whale Wars” is an inherent consequence of the show’s popularity.

Paul Watson has been criticized not only for his proclivity for international legal issues, but also by other activist organizations such as Greenpeace, who voted him off their boards in the 1970s because he believed his activism practices were inconsistent with their mission. In the 2009 book “Whaling in Japan”, author Jun Morikawa also confirmed that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s controversial actions played a role in increasing the acceptance of whaling among the general public in Japan.

That said, since the premiere of “Whale Wars” in 2007, it received a warm welcome from audiences and received high ratings, but also drew criticism from Animal Planet from those who disapproved of Paul Watson’s activist approach. Despite the network’s claims that it does not contribute financially to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s objectives, in an interview with Playboy in 2012, Paul himself admitted the huge reach the TV show had given to his cause, saying ‘the most powerful weapon in the world is the camera’.

Is Sea Shepherd still active?

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is still active today, but things have changed quite a bit since we last saw it through “Whale Wars”. Despite stepping down as head of the organization amid the injunction against him in 2013, Paul Watson eventually resumed his activities as director when the waters calmed down.

Nevertheless, Paul Watson’s role in the organization diminished as the years went by. According to The Saturday paper, Paul was removed from the board of directors in 2014 and then asked to leave the US arm of the organization in 2019. The relationship between Paul and Sea Shepherd finally came to an end when he left the organization for good in 2022, as he did not align with the future goals of the organization.

Following his discharge, Paul established the Captain Paul Watson Foundation, while Sea Shepherd announced the continuation of their operations and the acquisition of new vessels.

All in all, despite all of Animal Planet’s best efforts to continue the show, that wasn’t enough to fight back against all the issues that came with Paul Watson and his now former organization. While the international legal troubles, controversy over the Ady Gil ship, and the scandal surrounding the organization’s internal relations may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no question that “Whale Wars” was a game-changing show, even in the huge genre of reality TV.